SUNY Cortland’s partnerships with Cuban institutions of higher education were bolstered last week when President Erik J. Bitterbaum signed memorandums of understanding in Cuba with a pair of Havana universities.
The agreements will deepen existing ties and lead to more cooperation between Cortland and the University of Havana and the University of Science of Physical Culture and Sports “Manuel Fajardo.” Academic and scientific collaboration on topics of mutual interest will be pursued in the months and years to come.
“We are proud to be at the forefront of improving educational connections between colleges in the United States and Cuba,” Bitterbaum said. “We look forward to providing more unique opportunities for our faculty and students to work together and help our two nations gain a better understanding of each other.”
Bitterbaum was joined on his visit to the communist-controlled Island nation by Jordan Kobritz, professor and department chair of sport management, and Mary Schlarb, director of international programs. The signing of the memorandums of understanding coincided with Universidad 2018, an international higher education conference held in Havana from Feb. 11 to 17. A total of 80 American representatives attended, including 22 from the SUNY system. H. Carl McCall, chairman of SUNY’s board of trustees, was among those in attendance.
Five memoranda of understanding were signed by U.S. universities during the conference and two of them involved SUNY Cortland.
“The SUNY delegation made a positive impression,” Schlarb said. “We showed our sincere interest in fostering partnerships by being there, and our Cuban partners said that our presence showed that we mean it. We want to be friends and partners.”
The memorandums of understanding may lead to faculty and staff transfers between institutions. Faculty-led trips to Cuba will benefit students, as SUNY Cortland professors lean on their Cuban counterparts for expertise and advice and arrange short-term educational trips with student researchers. In the future, SUNY Cortland might forge semester-long study abroad programs in Cuba, but in the near-term will encourage students interested in a semester long experience to use other SUNY-sanctioned programs.
A delegation of eight SUNY Cortland administrators, staff and faculty members traveled to Cuba in June 2017 to explore academic opportunities. Just prior to that, a group of 17 SUNY Cortland students traveled to Cuba with SUNY Cortland faculty to participate in a six-credit summer program that gave students an opportunity to explore Cuba through the lenses of art, baseball, history and politics.
Those visits combined with years of work on behalf of College officials, allowed Cortland-Cuban relationships to form quickly.
“It’s because of the relationships that Erik, Jordan, and others have made over the years,” Schlarb said. “We have to give a lot of credit to SUNY as well. SUNY has the first U.S. system-wide partnership with the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education, which is significant.”
Kobritz, a former owner of Triple-A and Single-A baseball teams, has served as a senior advisor to the Caribbean Baseball Initiative since 2011. The CBI aims to connect Cuban and American baseball interests through clinics, conferences and games.
The offerings of SUNY Cortland’s Sport Management Department are of particular interest to the University of Science of Physical Culture and Sports, which has educated many Olympic athletes and those who work in Cuba’s baseball industry. SUNY Cortland students and faculty may benefit from these partnerships in the fields of art, language and political science, among many others.
The Cuba Working Group, led by Kobritz, will meet regularly on campus to discuss issues related to studying and working in Cuba with interested faculty and staff. The group is co-sponsored by the President’s Office, Academic Affairs and the International Programs Office. For more information, contact Kobritz at 607-753-2196.